Written evidence submitted by What Works for Children's Social Care


Children’s Homes Inquiry

What Works for Children’s Social Care Evidence Submission




What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Education Committee’s inquiry on children’s homes. WWCSC generates, collates and makes accessible the best evidence for practitioners, policy makers and practice leaders to improve children’s social care and the outcomes it generates for children and families.


Our submission focuses on educational outcomes for children and young people in children’s homes, the quality and access to support for these children and the sufficiency of places in children’s homes. We focus particularly on the experience of children in secure children’s homes for welfare reasons, reflecting on our recent research with Cardiff University that looks at this group of particularly vulnerable children.


Educational outcomes for children and young people in children’s homes, including attainment and progression to education, employment and training destinations


  1. The annual data published by the Department for Education on children in care does not distinguish between a child’s placement type when looking at most outcomes (including educational outcomes). SImilarly, although the Department for Education’s Children in Need Review looked at the different outcomes for children living at home with family on a child in need or child protection plan and children in care, they did not look at the different outcomes by placement type for children in care. Although it is possible to request this data, this is a time consuming process and routine publication of outcomes by placement type would help ensure a better understanding of the experiences and outcomes of children in children’s homes.


Recommendation: To enable easier comparison of the educational outcomes of children and young people in children’s homes and their peers, outcome data for children in care should be broken down by placement type.


  1. However, a 2013 study linked the National Pupil Database and the Children Looked After Database for the cohort who were eligible to take GCSEs in 2013. This enabled them to look specifically at the outcomes of young people according to their placement at key stage four. They found that young people living in residential or another form of care at age 16 scored over six grades less than those who were in kinship or foster care.[1]


  1. A recent analysis by Ofsted on the education of children living in children’s homes found that children in children’s homes were also less likely to be in a good or outstanding secondary school (77%) than all children nationally (80%), or a good or outstanding pupil referral unit (72%) than nationally (77%). This is despite the fact that, as the report notes, it is the goal of a local authority to find an educational setting that is wherever possible, judged to be good or outstanding and best suited to the child’s needs. The situation for primary aged children was better, the proportion of children in children’s homes in good or outstanding primary schools (90%) was slightly higher than the proportion of all children nationally (87%).[2]


  1. Of the sample included in the Ofsted study (2,600 children, 44% of those in a children’s home at the time), children were 20 times more likely to be in special education than all children nationally, reflecting the complex needs of many children in children’s homes.  The study also found that children living in children’s homes were 18 times more likely to be attending a pupil referral unit than all pupils attending state-funded provision nationally.


  1. Steps have been put in place to seek to address the educational attainment gap between children in care and their peers. The Children and Families Act 2014 requires local authorities in England to appoint a virtual school head to promote the educational achievement of its looked after children. Further, the Children in Need review committed to ensure children with a social worker receive effective, evidence-based support in and around school. 


  1. WWCSC have taken steps to identify this type of support by re-analysing data from the National Pupil Database and 63 randomised controlled trials funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), to look at the impacts of educational interventions on the attainment of young people who have had a social worker.


  1. The research identified ten projects that showed ‘Signs of Potential’, interventions that appear to have larger positive impacts for young people who have had a social worker than for their peers. Interventions that target parents and carers appear from our analysis to be particularly encouraging. The findings have become particularly pertinent given the current pandemic and the likely impact on the educational attainment of children with a social worker.


  1. WWCSC are now running randomised control trials of three of these programmes to see if they do improve outcomes for children with a social worker. However, the poor educational outcomes of children in residential care suggest particular focus is needed on interventions that may help this group.


Recommendations: Further research is required to identify and evaluate interventions that could improve the educational outcomes for children and young people in children’s homes.



The quality of, and access to, support for children and young people in children’s homes, including support for those with special education needs, and the support available at transition points


  1. As noted above, children in children’s homes are more likely to have complex needs. Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care noted that in 2013, about 62% of children had clinically significant mental health difficulties; and, 74% were reported to have been violent or aggressive in the past six months.[3] He reported that 53% of children living in children’s homes have a statement of special educational needs or an Educational, Health and Care plan, and a further 28% have identified special educational needs without statements or EHC plans. This compares to 20% and 34% for all children in care respectively.[4]


  1. These children are also more likely to go missing. Research found that the largest proportion of missing incidents were from ‘secure units, children’s homes and semi-independent living arrangements’ (56%) (compared to 25% from foster placements and 14% from children in care who were living independently).[5] Indeed, fear of going missing was the reason given for applying for a secure children’s homes welfare placement for nearly half of children.[6]


  1. Children in secure children’s homes are likely to have even more significant needs. Under Section 25 of the Children Act a local authority can apply to court to place a child in a secure children’s home if they have a history of running away from other placements and if they are likely to suffer significant harm if they do run away, or if they are likely to injure themselves or others. WWCSC commissioned Cardiff University to look at the pathways and outcomes of young people referred to secure children’s homes for welfare reasons.


  1. The study found that overall 46% of the young people referred to secure accommodation during the study timeframe (October 2016 - March 2018) had a recorded substance misuse problem. In addition, the research found that 53% of young people referred had a recorded conviction within the study period.


  1. During the year of referral, the average mental health scores across the sample was also a cause for concern. While this score dropped slightly in the year after referral, those for whom a place in a secure children’s home could not be found who were placed in alternative accommodation had a slightly higher score than those placed in a secure children’s home. Exploration of individual scores showed that just over a half of young people’s score worsened over time, nearly two fifths improved, and the remainder stayed the same. However, high levels of missing data makes interpretation of these figures difficult.


  1. Despite these significant needs, very little is known about the type of support provided to children in secure children’s homes and how it meets their needs.


  1. A systematic review of residential care using evidence of moderate strength found that children in non-residential placements (for example foster care) had better outcomes than children in residential care when both were providing ‘care as usual’. However, when evidence-based residential care was compared with evidence-based non-residential placements, there were no significant differences in most outcomes. The review looked at 19 research studies, though none of the studies included were from the UK. Nevertheless the review points to the role of evidence-based interventions improving the outcomes for children in residential care.[7]

Recommendation: Further research is needed to look at the support provided for children and young people placed in children’s homes (including Secure Children’s Homes), who have complex needs often related to mental health, substance misuse and offending. An evidence base should be developed to help identify which interventions should be provided to improve their outcomes.


  1. Eight Staying Close projects have been funded by the Department for Education, specifically for care leavers leaving residential care. This series of projects is similar to the ‘Staying Put’ programme for young people in foster care. Staying Close is designed to allow these children to live independently, nearby to the children’s home they lived in before, and with ongoing support from the home.


  1. Findings from our secure children’s homes report indicate the potential need for piloting and evaluating similar support for children transitioning from secure children’s homes to the community. In the year after referral to a secure children’s home, young people had an average of three placement moves.


Recommendation: The support provided to young people when they leave Secure Children’s Homes should be reviewed, given the current situation where, on average, young people experience three new placements in the year after referral.


  1. Only 10% of children’s home staff are graduates.[8] Steps have been taken to try to upskill the workforce and it is now mandatory for  staff to have or be working towards a Level 3 Diploma for Residential Care. The 2015 Department for Education census of the children’s home workforce found that over nine in ten staff (excluding registered managers) either held a Level 3 qualification, or were working towards the diploma.[9]


  1. Research has looked at the challenges that residential support workers face in caring for children in children’s homes.[10] These include limited resources, and an increasing number of children with mental health difficulties and challenging behaviour. Indeed, the trauma that children have experienced can often mean that they mistrust adults and their behaviour can be very challenging. The high turnover of  residential care workers has been highlighted and attributed to poor conditions, inflexible work hours and low pay.[11]


Recommendation:  The terms of reference for the Care Review include identifying what is needed to ensure there is a strong, stable and resilient social care workforce.The review should pay particular attention to steps needed to recruit and support children’s homes staff with appropriate skills and reduce turnover given the vulnerability and complex needs of children in their care.


The sufficiency of places in children’s homes, and the regional location of homes


  1. Provision of children’s homes currently comes under three different umbrellas; children’s homes run by the local authority, homes run by the third sector and homes run by for profit providers. According to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) about 70% of places (6,988) are currently provided by private providers, 21% by local authorities (2,128) and 9% (873) by the third sector. This is in contrast to Scotland where only 32% of places are provided by the for-profit sector.[12]


  1. The Local Government Association has raised concerns about the levels of debt and indicators of risk in some of the largest provider groups and the current lack of understanding about how profit, consolidation and risk are affecting the market and experiences and outcomes for children.[13] A study carried out in 2020 by Cordis Bright and the Department for Education found that homes rated outstanding by Ofsted had the lowest average fees.[14]


  1. There has been increasing concern raised about the inadequate supply of children 's places.[15] The difficulty in finding appropriate placements to meet the needs of children can result in children being sent long distances to homes or being placed in accommodation that may not meet their needs.


  1. Children in children’s homes are more likely to be living away from their local communities than those in foster care.[16] The Office of the Children’s Commissioner has highlighted the small number of children’s homes in the south and in London, compared to higher levels in the North West, East Midlands and West Midlands.[17] This echoes Narey’s previous findings that London has only 6% of children’s homes whilst the North West has 24%.[18]


  1. For the year ending 31st March 2020 (the most recent available), placements inside the council boundary accounted for 58% of all Children Looked After placements. As expected, the location of placement varies by placement type. For those children placed within their council boundary, 9.6% were placed in a secure unit, children’s home or semi-independent living arrangement. For those placed outside their home authority, the proportion in a secure unit, children’s home or semi-independent living arrangement is higher at 19%. For children and young people in foster care, the reverse is true, those placed within their home authority account for 75% versus 68% of those placed outside their council boundary.[19]


  1. There are also concerns about high and increasing prices with significant variation between the price paid by local authorities for similar placements. The National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care found that the average price per child in an independent children’s home in England in 2019  had risen by 40% since 2013 (to around £4,000 per week).[20]


  1. Given these concerns, the CMA has launched a market study to look at the provision of accommodation and associated care and support for children in care. They highlight that the overall number of children in care grew by just over 20% between 2011 and 2020, but the number of children’s homes places grew by only 8%.



Recommendation: The conclusions from the Competition and Markets Authority’s market study should be carefully considered by central and local government to improve the sufficiency and cost of children’s homes placements and ensure children have access to placements that meet their needs. 


  1. These concerns echo the findings of our recent research on secure children’s homes. This found that places were not available for two in five children that were referred to a secure children’s home for welfare reasons. Children and young people who could not be found a place were put in alternative accommodation. Those in alternative accommodation were twice as likely to be classed as a danger to others and more likely to display challenging behaviours including sexually harming behaviours, offending behaviours and association with a gang.


  1. Despite the vulnerability of young people referred to secure children’s homes, there were on average 4.23 attempts to find a placement. Reviews of 33 case files indicated that finding a placement tended to take, on average, three applications for those placed in a secure children’s home, and six unsuccessful attempts for those subsequently placed in alternative accommodation.


Recommendation: The number of applications required before a secure children’s home place is provided, and the fact that many children initially rejected from secure children’s homes and placed in alternative accommodation are later given a place, indicates that the current placement process and supply of placements is inadequate. This should be reviewed, to ensure children can get access to the support they need at the right time.


  1. Common reasons for refusals from secure children’s homes for young people placed in alternative accommodation included the young person’s aggression. The odds of being refused also increased with age and having a history of challenging behaviours. Notably, 25% of young people in alternative accommodation were subsequently placed in a secure children’s home (compared to 15% of the secure children’s home group), and 22% were placed in a young offender institution or prison (compared to 6% of the secure children’s home group).


Recommendation: Specific consideration should be given to what support and placements can be provided to older boys with a history of challenging behaviour who were more likely to be refused places in a secure children’s home.


  1. Of the young people for whom a placement in a secure children’s home could not be found, nearly half were placed in a children’s residential home, and a tenth in a Young Offenders Institution. However little information about the nature of alternative accommodation was available, meaning there is much more to find out about the nature and quality of these young people’s experiences.


Recommendation: The lack of knowledge of what alternative accommodation consists of demands further exploration to discover whether it is appropriate and if it can be viewed as a real alternative to a secure children’s home. Local authorities should report to Ofsted when children who apply for a secure children’s home cannot be placed and record what alternative accommodation is provided (including whether this involves the deprivation of their liberty or not).


April 2021



For further information please contact Eleanor Briggs, Director of Policy, WWCSC




April 2021



[1] Sebba, J., Berridge, D., Luke, N., Fletcher, J., Bell, K., Strand, S., Thomas, S., Sinclair, I. and O'Higgins, A. 2019. The Educational Progress of Looked After Children in England: Linking Care and Educational Data. [online] . Available at:

[2] Ofsted. 2021. The education of children living in children’s homes. [online] GOV.UK. Available at: [Accessed 21 Apr. 2021].

[3] Narey, M. 2016. Residential Care in England: Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care.

[4] Ibid.

[5] 2020. Children looked after in England including adoptions, Reporting Year 2020. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].

[6]What Works for Children’s Social Care (2020). Unlocking the facts: Children referred to secure children’s homes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021]

[7] Strijbosch, E.L.L., Huijs, J.A.M., Stams, G.J.J.M., Wissink, I.B., van der Helm, G.H.P., de Swart, J.J.W. and van der Veen, Z. (2015). The outcome of institutional youth care compared to non-institutional youth care for children of primary school age and early adolescence: A multi-level meta-analysis. Children and Youth Services Review, [online] 58, pp.208–218. Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].

[8] Narey, M. 2016. Residential Care in England: Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care.

[9] Narey, M. 2016. Residential Care in England: Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care.

[10] Steels, S. and Simpson, H., 2017. Perceptions of children in residential care homes: A critical review of the literature. The British Journal of Social Work, 47(6), pp.1704-1722.

[11] Colton, M. and Roberts, S., 2007. Factors that contribute to high turnover among residential child care staff. Child & Family Social Work, 12(2), pp.133-142.

[12] Competition and Markets Authority. 2021. Children social care market study: Invitation to comment [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].

[13] Rome,A. 2020. Profit making and risk in independent children social care placement providers [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].

[14] Cordis Bright. 2020. Research on fees paid by local authorities for children’s homes in England [online] Available at:  [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].


[15] Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report, Funding of Local Authorities’ Children Services, May 2019

[16] Narey, M. 2016. Residential Care in England: Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care

[17] Children’s Commissioner for England. (2020). Unregulated. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].

[18]Narey, M. 2016. Residential Care in England: Report of Sir Martin Narey’s independent review of children’s residential care

[19] 2020. Children looked after in England including adoptions, Reporting Year 2020. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].

[20] Rome, A. 2020. Price trends and costs of children’s homes. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 19 Apr. 2021].